Tales from a Mother of a Female Marine : The Truth. Part Two.

Hello everyone! This is a part two blog post. Anyone can continue to read along or you may want to read part one first which is my account of turning my daughter over to the Marines. What a painstaking, come to grips process that was! That story ended at boot camp graduation.

My daughter just completed her five years in the Marines, so this is my final hurrah and written piece as a mother of a female marine. Deep exhale…my worst fears as a military mom did not come to pass. I won’t say the last five years have not been without incident or anxiety. There was that too. I can also release myself from the duty of watching current events like a hawk (sort-of, my daughter’s spouse is still a marine).

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Let me just point out a few things:

  • When my daughter joined the Marines we were at war. (Iraq and Afghanistan)
  • The rules changed for women during the time of her enlistment. Combat jobs became open to women with the condition that a woman could meet the requirements for the job. This year, the first female marine made it to combat infantry officer.
  • The Marines were getting a lot of heat for how they managed their women at the time of my daughter’s enlistment, and incidents of sexual assault were at an all time high.
  • My daughter joined the Marines under Obama and ended her enlistment under Trump.

My daughter Mandaline did not end up going to Iraq or Afghanistan. Her military occupational specialty (MOS) was as a combat correspondent. Her field was public affairs. My daughter completed boot camp in early December of 2013, so lucky for me, she was home for her first Christmas before heading out for additional training in North Carolina. From there, my daughter went to Baltimore, Maryland to complete her schooling for her occupational specialty.

I had had no qualms about my daughter going to Baltimore. None. It was stateside. What could go wrong? Well, as it turned out, this safe place gave me quite the start. Mandaline came down with a skin infection that effected her and a few others. She had huge craters and scabs on her skin, and the whole thing escalated and spread quickly in a short amount of time.

I finally called medical because I did not feel like they were taking it seriously enough. The antibiotic she was taking was obviously not effective. Okay… I had worked on an infectious disease floor at the hospital. I let my mind run a-muck with staph.  I did not want to be that mom but I became that mom.

I remember my daughter telling me she was putting  coconut oil on it much to my exasperation, and finally after I placed a phone call to medical my daughter was placed on a different antibiotic. I insisted she take it in front of me over Face Time. I became THAT mom again, “Now open…SWALLOW…show ME…” You get the idea. I don’t regret my behavior. Her skin condition cleared up.

Speaking of skin conditions, there were also concerns over her injection site from the Anthrax Vaccine. I am not one of those anti-vax people, but let’s face it some of these vaccinations can make any pro-vax mom squeemish. I remember thinking, “What are they putting into my kid?” Note to self: my daughter was not a kid anymore. I’m not here to diss on the Marines but I have to give an honest account.

I had the illusion that because my child was a marine, she would receive top notch medical care. It’s…medical care. I’m not the only one who has ever said it. I would say medical In the military is lacking some and it leaves something to be desired. I certainly hope quality medical care is concentrated in areas where there are combat veterans.

While my daughter was in the military she had her wisdom teeth pulled out. She got the worst case of dry sockets. I don’t know where the ball was dropped, but my daughter was drinking out of a straw that day. I remember asking Mandy, “did you get any after-care instructions at all? Did anyone tell you at any point that you should not be drinking out of a straw?” In the military’s defense I thought she may have been doped up a little. Then again I found out she was not doped up. The anesthesia was sub par.

I had no idea where my daughter was going to be stationed after Baltimore. It was looking like she was going to be stateside, but as fate would have it, someone broke their leg  and Mandaline was sent to Okinawa, Japan instead.

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Mandaline loved Okinawa. She loved Japan. She loved the cultures of both. By the way, the culture of those in Japan is completely different than that of those in Okinawa. Just another side note: The Okinawans do not view US military occupation there favorably. There were several large protests against it while Mandaline was there. Public relation efforts were challenging and incidents had happened there where a few military personnel had damaged trust and the reputation of the entire military was impacted as a whole.

Island life could be a little confining and their were strict rules for curfew and conduct. There was a time while Mandaline was stationed in Japan that she got to go on a ship and I had no idea where she was. She absolutely loved it. It was quite the adventure, they even had to be leery of pirates. She raved about sea life, the sunsets, and the french toast.

I felt a little uneasy having a daughter at sea and not having any idea where she was. Mandaline was also able to go to South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines to film military training exercises. She went to mainland Japan a few times. She met up with her dad in China, and she took a trip to Vietnam which she absolutely loved.

One of the highlights of Thailand was riding an elephant. The killing fields and Iwo Jima were largely impressionable upon her. The killing fields are not something you necessarily want to see but these landmarks provide very telling details about the nature of inhumanity. Ones that should not be ignored.

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Mandaline raved about the kindness of the people she met in the Philippines and the Lumpias. One of her newfound friends in the Philippines gave Mandaline her hat. I can not mention Mandaline’s time in Japan without making reference to her boyfriend at the time, Isaac, who was also in the Marines.

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He spent part of his time growing up in Israel, and they met Isaac’s family there, so Mandaline also went to Jerusalem. Isaac had dual citizenship in the United States and Israel and plans for joining the Israeli defense force.

Riding A Camel In Israel

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Many aspects of their relationship had me concerned and they were not just based on faith. They managed to forge a relationship despite growing up in separate cultures. I believe there may have been underlying competitiveness and I saw my daughter become more insecure about herself over time.

In the end, the relationship with Isaac dissolved and they had their closure. I will forever be grateful to Isaac for being there for Mandaline when she was having some difficulties with witnessing some of the trauma that had transpired in Nepal. It was hard for everyone. Nobody ever expects a humanitarian mission to end in tragedy.

Before tragedy struck, it seems as if on first impression, that when Mandaline arrived in Kathmandu everything seemed off but non-threatening. Nobody saw the worst of any of the repercussions of the earthquake right away. At one point, Mandaline and a few of the other Marines had done some shopping in some of the market places. Despite tragedy, it was hard not to be enraptured by the mountains of Nepal.  The area did have a strange vibe to it post-earthquake. Most definitely.

Many businesses were empty but some were trying to resume business with some semblance of normalcy. They needed the business. This was when this video was taken: I was surprised anyone was dancing after the first massive earthquake had hit Nepal.

I believe Mandi gets the prize for picking up Nepalese dancing the quickest. Mandaline and Isaac did both receive humanitarian awards for the work they did in Nepal. It was an honor, and yet so hard to receive with enthusiasm knowing that two other members of their team had lost their lives. Any one of them would have gone up in that chopper.  They all would have done the same thing. Survivors guilt is a hard thing , and I saw it in Mandaline on her return trips home. The loss of Jacob Hug was a hard hit for her. She had also flown with Sergeant Johnson.

Isaac would later go on to receive a prestigious award for being videographer of the year and some of his photos were featured in National GeographicSome of Mandaline’s photos were published in US News and a few other magazines. She did get awarded top shot for one of her photos. I will say the Marines gave my daughter a tremendous opportunity to obtain a portfolio and to photograph so much of the world in a short amount of time. She had traveled more in her first few years as a marine than some have traveled in a lifetime.

When my daughter first became interested in the Marines I asked her why. Her answer was that she wanted to be a humanitarian. My response was why don’t you join the Peace Corps or something? I ate my words. Mandaline did do humanitarian work in the Marines. The work that was being done in Cambodia was also commendable. Here is a short clip about teaching the Cambodians to remove their unexploded ordinances. Can you find the dog 🐶 in this one?

A Cambodian’s Story

This became a funny little trademark of hers. She always found a way to place a dog in all her videos even though the videography had nothing to do with dogs. It was like playing Where’s Waldo? This was by far my favorite short clip. I know I have accumulated a lot of links for my own collection but this is the one to watch.

Nepalese Enduring

Mandaline helped collaborate on this one but really the credit is Isaac’s. This will give you a taste of what was truly at stake in Nepal.

Mandy is an extreme animal lover, and a vegetarian which seems unusual for a marine.  Marines love their barbecues and they love their dogs. If Mandaline could have taken home every dog she saw roaming around in Asia she would have. Here is a picture of a dog she fell in love with in Australia:

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Mandaline fell in love with one particular dog in Japan. It was the one and love  at first sight. She was fortunate enough to have friends in Japan to make dog ownership a reality. It was a communal effort, and a friend who was in the Air Force who lived off base fostered her dog for awhile. The dog came at a time when she needed it most.

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There was a time when I felt as if my daughter’s confidence in herself and her abilities plummeted after Nepal. She’d come home angry and we would argue. I could scarcely understand what was happening. I saw her so little. Why were we now going through this?

She also lost the desire to make a career out of media after she had to take pictures in Nepal that she thought were disturbing. At one point She kneeled down with her camera, cried, and said, “I can’t do this.” She said, “I always liked taking pictures, but not of this.” A few of her comrades also cried with her. It was agreed that it was okay to cry. Mandy was among the first of her group to go back to Japan after Nepal, and it was time. All of it was really starting  to have a negative effect on her. You can really only witness so much trauma at once.

Mandaline went up in choppers a few times to assist and document disaster relief efforts while she was in Nepal. One day, she was busy uploading photos and someone else was sent on a chopper instead. It was not her day, it was not her ride. The chopper did not make the return trip back and was reported missing.

Days later, it was found “in pieces.” There were no survivors. The night before the news of the downed chopper’s sighting was made public, Mandaline called me. I could tell something was wrong. I greeted her on Face Time like I always did, and when I asked her what was wrong she was choking back sobs. She could tell me nothing. She did not have to say a thing. Mom’s know.

I found out the news of the chopper early the next morning. I’ll never forget that feeling of panic I felt when I first heard a chopper was missing in Nepal. I got news that my daughter was alright. Six other marine families did not.

The death of her comrades, the aftershocks, witnessing the trauma of others, the crack in her hotel ceiling, the second earthquake that hit while she was at the embassy, and the uncanny behavior of the birds before the earthquakes must have overwhelmed the senses. When it came time to transfer the remains of her fallen comrades she stood in formation with her knees locked in the heat of the day and completely fainted. She was taken to medical for treatment.

She had some fears of flying after that. She would shake and cry but she did it. It seemed everyone was so indispensable when they had landed on the runways of Nepal not knowing if the runways were even safe for landing or not. Now, nobody was indispensable.Nobody expected a humanitarian mission to go wrong.

The further Mandaline got from Nepal in time and distance the better she became. She had a fantastic support network in Okinawa waiting for her. I knew things were really improving when she posted this excerpt on social media:

Facing Your Fears Has a Nice View

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Just when Mandaline was getting comfortable with flying again she flew to mainland Japan where she was stuck for a few days longer because the chopper they had flown in on had a fuel leak. They were lucky. The track record for military flight crashes had escalated more than in previous years.  Many in the military had concerns about where military spending cuts were being made. Many felt they were being made at the expense of the safety of military personnel, and flight times were down.

I had many concerns for Mandaline during this time. Will the military make your child more aggressive? Yes it will. Will their vocabulary change? Will they get tatoos? Will situations arise where things may get out if hand? Perhaps. In my daughter’s case…yes.

Did my  daughter face misogyny and insubordination of male peers while she was a sergeant because she was a woman? Yes she did. Can a male marine make a female marine miserable if his advances toward her are not reciprocated? Yes, he can. Did I ever feel their were situations where my daughter could have kept herself in check better? There were.

The Marines have a male majority and females by far comprise a smaller minority. I literally had many people boldly state to me that they felt females had no place in the military. Do I feel women have a place in the military? Absolutely! Can the Marines do better? Yes. Are there programs in place to do better? Yes. Can they continue to be improved? Again, I would say yes.

Another drawback of the military is that there were times I was finding it harder and harder to reconcile home visits with Mandaline.  It seems that I would just “catch up’ with Mandaline and then she would be gone again. She’d come back a little different every time. I was different as well. Neither of us knew why we were different. We could see the changes in each other but not in ourselves.

We’d have to get used to the changes that had occurred while we were apart and just as we would all transition into these changes our time would be up. She’d go again and we’d start the whole process over on the next visit.

I could not help but think, “how do those who are married to someone in the military do it?”  Playing catch up on limited time can be so hard.  Her siblings would be growing up beyond her capacity to witness the subtle changes over time.

Mandaline left our home in September, and after I had remarried, I was in a new home in Riverton with a new family dynamic and additional step children. These are just some of the changes that had occurred that required everyone to catch up to speed. Mandaline came home to an entirely different home.

I believe the time my daughter was in the military doing her best was when she went to Australia for six months. She had time to get her confidence back and focus on her own work without outside influences or alter elements getting in the way. She swam with sharks and camped in the outback. She ate alligator and turtle as part of a survivalist training. I found out later the person who had done her assignment the year before was air lifted out of Australia for being bitten by a venomous spider.

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Mandaline was always generous. She’d send everyone packages from her travels from Australia and spoil her siblings at Christmas. She made it a point to take her siblings out on a one on one date before leaving again.  The hardest part of her being away is that there was a period of time when we did not see her for an entire year. We had the most joyous reunion at the airport and it was time. It was so beyond time. It felt like everything was right in the universe again.

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Another memorable visit happened when she came home and we voted together. I won’t lie. My anxieties went up when Donald Trump became commander in chief. Despite political affiliation, can we all just agree he can be a brash man who could use a filter? Not that the other option was necessarily optimal either.

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Those in the military had strong opinions about Benghazi. However, it is a huge misconception to assume those all those in the military were completely united behind Trump. There were those in the military who were just as mixed on this as many other Americans.

A huge pet peeve of mine became when others tried to use the military to make political statements and speak for them all is if they were one collective voice. There are many women in the military. There are many hispanics, and African Americans. There is diversity in the military for sure. To speak for them all is ludicrous.

Some marines are not political at all. It’s a job. It’s a paycheck. It’s the GI Bill. It’s about camaraderie and brotherhood. They fight more on behalf of one another than anyone else. They could care less about politics.

One of my least favorite memes that went viral was a meme that circulated about our female Marines that portrayed them as part of “the real girls club” after the women’s march. Largely, this was meant to be a compliment. Yet, under the context of the women’s march, if one doesn’t think these women don’t have strong opinions about misogyny and inappropriate sexual advances, they should think again. I’m not saying all of these women would have participated in the march or threw their support, but these women do comprise the same statistics as many other women.

I was really proud when my daughter was able to cover Black history month in the military and do a story on Native American brothers in the military who were remembering their grandfather’s service.

I love my Veterans I absolutely do but I never felt it was an either/or situation for me. I finally made a statement about this on social media. I can CARE about my veterans in this country AND Syrian refugees at the SAME time (or any other group of people who may be suffering from famine, poverty, or disease).  Nobody said I had to decide.

I was also bothered by the bait switch. My least favorite was when those in the media would bait someone with patriotism and switch to racism. I really began to despise military related political memes. It was really disheartening to see all the division that had been transpiring in America. I felt when Mandaline’s time was up in the military it was time.

She had a good run in the Marines. I was blessed beyond measure and I know that many of my prayers were answered. Other parents do not come out so fortunate. I have talked to other Gold star moms. I don’t know the reasoning behind every outcome that befalls every soldier. I know many mothers have prayed with as much vigor as I have, even more so. I get emotionally triggered anytime I hear about a fallen soldier or a military crash.  I am much more sentimental at patriotic events.

SO here it is. My closure. I attended a Jackson Generals game where they were honoring the Marines and another mother approached me about her daughter joining the marines. It was a good conversation to have. It was an honest conversation, as honest as this post has been. I don’t speak for all military moms. I don’t speak for the military. This is one military mother’s perspective. It has been an honor to share this post with you and I wrote this for myself as much as anyone.

If you have not read my previous post on how my daughter’s time in the Military ended, it ended here.

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Her husband Josh is still in the Marines and he is now stationed in Hawaii. Mandaline has applied for two colleges in Hawaii in hopes of becoming an environmental architect.

This is where the next chapter begins.   Thanks to those who have shared this journey with me. This is a mother of a former marine signing off. September has now OFFICIALLY come to an end!

Now…Let’s do 🎃 Halloween!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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